Occupy Wall Street: Should Australians be protesting?
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Occupy Wall Street: Should Australians be protesting?

Following protests in Australia this weekend, it seems ironic that some young Australians have found the need to join the Occupy Wall Street movement. I thought these guys were supposed to be against American influence, not imitating them slavishly.

Nevertheless, their protest does raise some interesting questions about income distribution in Australia.

One of the damning figures being bandied about at the moment is this, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics:

The wealthiest 20% of households in 2009–10 accounted for 62% of total household net worth, with average net worth of $2.2 million per household. The poorest 20% of households accounted for 1% of total household net worth and had an average net worth of $32,000 per household.

However, most of this inequality can be put down to home ownership. Most people who are renting probably fit into the category of those with low net worth, but most people in Australia who rent are not necessarily living in poverty.

Here are some other figures that suggest all is not quite so bad for the poor in Australia:

A married couple with two children and dependent on benefits received almost half the median household income in Australia, compared with only 20 per cent in the US, 35 per cent in Britain, and 28 per cent in New Zealand.

Another important figure, when it comes to income inequality is the minimum wage. Australia at $29,640 appears to rank second in the world behind Denmark for the highest minimum wage. This is $14,000 more than the United States; $13,000 more than New Zealand; $12,000 more than Canada and $7,000 more than the UK. This is not to mention other benefits for the poor in Australia, including cheap universal health care.

The rich, meanwhile, have some significant arguments that they are more than doing their bit:

If the 12 million Australians who file tax returns were represented as 100 people – 3 would pay 30% of all personal income tax and 60 would pay 10%. (Of those 60, 25 pay no tax at all.)

And this:

How many families receive more in handouts from the federal Government than they pay in income tax? The answer – 42.2 per cent.

In other words, about 25 per cent of Australians pay no income tax, and more than 40 per cent are not really contributing anything to the rest of us once the other hand-outs are taken into consideration. It looks to me like our protesters are almost certainly in this 40 per cent, rather than the 99 per cent that they claim to identify with.

Yet another of the many ironies, of course, is that the Global Financial Crisis was triggered by foolish schemes to tackle income inequality by lending money to people who were never going to be able to pay it back. So if the Americans never tried to address income equality in the first place, they might all be better off.

All the evidence, in fact, suggests that Australia is one of the best places in the world to be poor, and has little in common with the United States in many areas. As for the argument about inequality, I would not be able to put it any better than Margaret Thatcher…

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